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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Enlightenment
Hampstead Theatre   Autumn 2010

Midway through Shelagh Stephenson's drama a character complains of a proposed TV documentary that it began about one subject but has morphed into a sexier but less significant topic.

The same could be said of the play itself.

Enlightenment begins as a study in pain. The parents of a backpacker who disappeared in Indonesia, possibly but not certainly victim of a terrorist bombing, exist in an unbearable limbo, unable either to live in hope or begin the process of grieving. The mother is driven to consult a dubious medium and convinced to allow an ambitious TV producer to do a show about her, in hopes of generating leads.

The peculiar and unbearable pain of not knowing is brought alive in these early scenes, but then another boy appears who may have information about their son, they take him in, and the play becomes a minor variant on John Guare's Six Degrees Of Separation.

I'm not giving away anything you won't guess long before the play gets around to telling you when I say that the boy is not what he seems and that he is lying to worm his way into their lives.

His motives and character are much darker than the parallel character in Guare's play, but also more trivial - Stephenson does not explore the neediness or the ironies of his quest, but just presents him as a bogeyman - and the play never recovers from this extended digression.

Meanwhile, a strained attempt to create a symbol out of a scientific experiment showing that the slightest variables can snowball to affect an outcome fails, simply because that idea really has nothing to do with the play.

As in Guare's play, there are several other characters, but the only ones that matter are the mother and the interloper. Julie Graham gets our sympathy and understanding from the start and then struggles to keep the play's focus on her character, where it belongs, just barely succeeding in winning it back at the end. Tom Weston-Jones gives a generous performance, doing justice to his character while clearly trying not to warp the play too much when its attention turns to him.

Director Edward Hall doesn't seem aware of or able to paper over the cracks in the play's structure.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Enlightenment - Hampstead 2010